Our Human Rights Act empowers women


One of the big questions causing a stir in print and social media around the Election and since was whether the new Government would make good on the promise to ‘scrap’ the Human Rights Act (HRA).

So why does this all matter? Well, in a nutshell, because this is about the protection of everyone’s rights, including women, to hold the government and public officials to account.

What ‘human rights’ are we talking about?

The Human Rights Act makes the international promise of universal human rights real here at home. The world community came together after the horrors of World War II to say there must be minimum standards for all people. Human rights are the basic freedoms and protections that every person has; they are not privileges to be earned or gifts that governments can give or take away at will.

The Human Rights Act puts legal duties on public authorities to respect 16 basic human rights in their decisions and actions. This helps deliver better services and empowers women to make sure they are treated fairly.

The Human Rights Act empowering women

The Human Rights Act works every day to improve the lives of women across the UK. It provides a framework for negotiation and advocacy to restore the power balance between women and public services. This can empower women to positively change their situation without having to go to court.

An example is when Frenny went into hospital to help treat her mental health problems. Despite agreements with social services that her children would visit her three times a week, this didn’t happen, leaving Frenny and her children very distressed. Support workers raised the issue of her right to respect for family life (Article 8, HRA), which opened up the conversation and helped find a solution.

When the line is crossed, the HRA also allows public officials to be held to account when they fail women. Joanna Michael called 999 after her violent ex-partner threatened to kill her. The call was mis-categorised by the police and they didn’t get to her home in time to save her. The courts have said that Joanna’s family can bring a legal case against the police under the Human Rights Act to decide whether they failed to meet their positive legal duty to take the necessary action to protect Joanna’s right to life (Article 2, HRA. Read our blog about this case here).

What is the Government planning?

The new Government said it wants to ‘scrap’ the Human Rights Act and replace it with a new British Bill of Rights. A law that sets out our rights and enables us to hold the government to account may sound like an appealing idea but that is exactly what the Human Rights Act does. It is based on our universal human rights, not on a DIY version of the rights the government wants to allow us.

The Government has been clear there will be no new rights; a new bill would restrict people’s rights depending on whether they belong to certain groups or behave in certain ways. We believe these plans will undermine human rights for everyone here at home and abroad.

So what next?

The Queen’s Speech referred to proposals for a bill of rights rather than legislation, meaning we are less likely to see a new law immediately and more likely to have a consultation. But now is not the time to be complacent. Since the election we have seen huge shows of public support for the Human Rights Act from all sections of society; we need to continue this. What’s at stake is the protection our universal human rights, the law that protects us all.

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Post Author

Sanchita Hosali
Sanchita Hosali is Deputy Director at the British Institute of Human Rights, with over 15 years’ experience working on human rights policy and practice. She has a particular expertise in violence against women and girls having worked both internationally and domestically on the issue.